Ashish Fernando, Founder and CEO, iSchoolConnect

Ashish started his career as a Software Engineer with Thomson Reuters Inc., building their flagship investment research solution – Thomson One. He then went on to take multiple executive roles in Program Management and AI before managing the Data Science and Engineering business in the Insurance vertical. Ashish is a university gold medalist in Biotechnology and later went on to study Bentley University’s flagship MBA in 2014 with a 100% scholarship. Ashish founded iSchoolConnect in 2017 to solve the pain point of many parents and children: getting unbiased, hassle-free admission in foreign colleges.


An interesting trend is emerging in the international higher education landscape. Many Indian study abroad aspirants are shifting their focus to unconventional study abroad destinations such as Ireland, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Russia, and China, driven by a desire to learn about diverse cultures and explore new territories.

Overseas higher education is a dream for a lot of Indian students. Unlike previously, the cohort breathing and sleeping on this dream have evolved to include a diverse student base hailing from different socio-economic backgrounds. However, the evolving demographic of Indian aspirants is not the only intriguing factor. The key highlight of this journey is the shift in the perspective of how students and their parents view options for overseas education and the consequential changing trajectory to fly to unconventional destinations.

Data Speaks

The whitepaper published by Western Union titled, “Education Overseas, An Evolving Journey,” brings out that while the US, UK, Australia, and Canada continue to be the top four study abroad destinations, unconventional choices such as Germany, Italy, China, Russia, Ireland, and Turkey witnessed a significant rise in the number of Indian students flying to pursue higher education.

To corroborate the trend, we looked at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) data. It revealed that students from over 70,000 families went to study abroad in the first two months of 2021. Additionally, the data bore some interesting insights which pointed to the rising popularity of unconventional destinations – such as China (29,600 students), Germany, and France (10,000 students combined) – that now have a sizable Indian student community.

Evolving Itineraries

Per the data released by Western Union, one in five (22%) study abroad aspirants in India are shifting their focus to unconventional destinations like Ireland, Germany, Turkey, China, and Russia to quench their demand for quality education and enhanced curricula.

According to data from a snapshot survey conducted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the winter semester of 2021 witnessed a spike in the number of newly enrolled international students from India. Around 29 percent of the higher education institutions surveyed reported a 10% increase in fresh students enrolled from India in the winter semester. The numbers plummeted during the summer semester due to the German government’s travel ban imposed on several countries, including India.

Similarly, another unconventional destination, Ireland, is emerging as a hotspot for Indian overseas education aspirants. Post-Brexit, Ireland happens to be the only English-speaking country in the European Union. Thus, it has access to the EU’s comprehensive research and development network, such as Erasmus+, and offers substantial opportunities in several fields. Additionally, the quest to explore niche disciplines, hog on travel opportunities, and experience new cultures drive many Indians to study in Ireland.

Like Germany and Ireland, other countries such as China, Turkey, Italy, and Russia, that seldom made it to the top study abroad destination list are experiencing a rise in the inflow of students from India.

Mapping the Future Overseas Higher Education

The significant change in the mobility of Indian students towards unconventional destinations is an indicator of the evolving priorities of Gen Z. Today, aspirants have moved beyond the conventional courses, and their preference for specialized courses outweigh parameters such as the reputation of the college. They look for courses that are niche and promise future opportunities. Driven by this quest, they move beyond Ivy League colleges that mainly cater to the traditional education demand. The ongoing pandemic has radically altered the aspirations of Gen Z. This change will significantly overhaul the world of higher education to meet the evolving needs of students globally.

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